As she finished sipping on a cup of coffee, Sarah Kinsley sat with EnVi over Zoom to chat about her sudden growth as a musician, her new EP Cypress, the joys of being heavily involved in the process of making music, and her hopes for the future.
The Rise of “The King”
Trained to play classical music from as young as four years old, Kinsley’s interest and musical abilities date back to her childhood and have continued to grow since. In middle school she started writing music, and during her high school years Kinsley started thinking about singing and performing in front of other people. It wasn’t until her first year at Columbia University that she started getting interested in making music.
“I started producing in college, and it kind of changed my life,” recalled Kinsley. “It wasn’t until my second year of college, kinda crazy that it was only two years ago, that I really started to invest in learning how to produce and trying to make this art and craft by myself.”
Kinsley’s efforts in learning how to produce music flourished in June 2021 with the release of her second EP The King. The EP was welcomed with positive reception from critics, and the leading single, also titled “The King,” went viral on TikTok. It has been used in more than 23 thousand TikTok videos and currently sits with over 30 million plays on Spotify.
With The King’s growing popularity, Kinsley soon came to the front of emerging artists to look out for. “I don’t feel imposter syndrome, but I do feel like it’s not real,” confessed Kinsley. “I have to remind myself that this is happening because like, I feel like everything I was taught to understand about how growth in music works is that it happens slowly… it takes a long time to convince people and persuade them that you are making something meaningful and that you have something worthy to offer to people.”
To Kinsley, the release and positive outcome of The King felt like a calling. “Never have I ever felt like, I don’t know, destined to do something, you know, more destined for something in my life.”
Renewal With Cypress
Kinsley’s third and most recent EP, Cypress, comes after the outpouring attention and love The King received. Cypress is a sonic treat with layered production full of lush vocals and rich instrumentals. Effervescently youthful and vulnerable, Cypress draws you into Kinsley’s world with five songs that address the emotions that come along with growth, change, and renewal.
“Cypress was totally like a sort of reset in this wanting to hide-back, and give in a bit, and grow for some time,” said Kinsley. “I think The King really blew up, and it kinda put me out there as “The King.” That’s who I was, and that’s who I am, and I am so grateful for that, but it was also like a stand alone thing. Nothing could exist before it and nothing could exist after it and all of a sudden it was all who I was and it took my life.”
Weeks after the release of The King, Kinsley visited California with her family. Overwhelmed by the positive reception of the EP, Kinsley recalled disconnecting from social media and wanting to escape through the road trip drives.
It was during this trip when Kinsley fell in love with cypress trees and the idea of hiding behind something. Partially inspired by the quote “you should save ten percent of yourself” from Michelle Zauner’s book Crying in H-Mart, Kinsley further developed an idea she had been exploring.
“Can I save myself from my art, can I save a part of myself from the world, and from other people? Cypress – it’s literally this constant feeling like I am running from something and wanting to know if things are worth it, if things are going to turn out like I want them to.”
In the opening song and first single, “Hills Of Fire,” Kinsley implores “You know I can’t stay the king forever / The city is a-calling, the water is a-rushing.” Kinsley immerses listeners into this new era with references back to “The King,” while also acknowledging the uncertainty of what the future holds. “As if I was driving into the sky into hills of fire and the fear that comes from driving through this landscape,” said Kinsley.
In the lighthearted and breezy “What Was Mine,” Kinsley navigates one-sided love, being led-on, and not understanding the love that we are in possession of. “Green” is fervently graceful about being angry. Jealous about nonchalance and indifference, Kinsley chants, “You don’t know that you don’t know / That you hurt me / You’re not angry, so I’m angry / No I’m still green when you go on.”
In the leading single, “Cypress,” Kinsley reflects on her experience becoming a musician, “Is it all, is it all, is it all that you wanted? / Is it everything and more?” A song that starts with a magical build-up of a piano and violin-like symphony, it then drops into 80s inspired pop-synth goodness.
The grand finale comes in the form of a piano ballad. Nostalgic in sound, “Lucky Drive” feels like being in the eye of a hurricane of emotions––sour and sad. “Don’t have to be seen, don’t have to be loved / To end up at your door / You and your eyes like wind / You can do no harm // I only know how to love when it feels wrong,” sings Kinsley. With a build-up that then withdraws, Kinsley brings Cypress to an end with a serene piano tune.
Kinsley hopes people who listen to the record feel as close to her as she feels to her listeners with her music. “I do hope that when they listen to Cypress, that they can experience the same thing that I am experiencing,” shared Kinsley. “Which is this wonderful moment to grow, and realize that things have to change and that’s okay to hide, but that it’s also very powerful to save yourself in that regard and unravel whatever the future wants you to take out of it.”
The Making of Cypress
Online and offline, Kinsely has been an advocate for the exposure of women producers in a male dominated music industry. She takes pride in her involvement in her music, and Cypress isn’t the exception, as it was written, performed, and produced in its entirety by Kinsley.
“I think I really want to do this [producing her own music] because I just don’t think I can do it any other way,” said Kinsley. “I feel very heavily inspired at every point in the process. I want to be able to exist and create in a space where I do have control of everything.”
While Kinsley thinks the making of her music remains similar in a lot of ways to her previous songs, she can also tell it has grown. Kinsley hopes to continue improving and exploring different techniques and ways to make music.
“I am really trying to test the limits, like not only creatively, but technologically, what my computer can handle, as well as what I can handle,” said Kinsley. “So pushing the bounds of what I think my music has been is a huge part of Cypress and a big part of this growth as well.”
Kinsley’s involvement in her music also extends into the visual aspects–she collaborated with long time friend Lux to accompany the release of Cypress with a music video trilogy. “There is something very very beautiful about sort of tying the knot between the sonic, a very intangible atmosphere, of how we perceive music and then grounding it in a visual manner through storytelling” explained Kinsley.
From filming during a snowstorm and windy plains to dancing with friends and creating dreamy narratives, the trilogy visualizes a moment where different versions of Kinsley meet each other and are able to collide at a certain point in time.
“We wanted to tell this story of the EP in three parts, which kind of happened magically. All the videos are linked through props, through clothing, and it’s just like following these characters through different modes of being,” shared Kinsley. “We try to expand it into a story beyond myself into a narrative that can exist for another character basically. Instead of being restricted to how I felt making the song.”
“I am unsure, but I am free.”
Kinlsey also accompanied the release of Cypress with her first headlining tour that soon sold-out.
“It was divine. It was incredible. Tour was such a blast,” shared Kinsley on the joy of playing music live opposed to just singing online. “I love traveling, so this is like the perfect chance to just meet a bunch of cool people and play Cypress EP and The King EP and many other songs in front of many crowds each night.”
While Kinsley’s musical career growth was sudden, she wouldn’t change anything about it. “I am very happy about my growth so far,” shared Kinsley. “My only hope is that it keeps growing, whatever way, whatever speed. Yeah, it’s about longevity. I am excited!”
When asked for advice to aspiring musicians, Kinsley started formulating an answer but then came to a pause. “I don’t like prescribing advice to other people because I don’t wanna, I don’t even like prescribing things to myself for the future,” said Kinsley. “But, I think one thing that I keep telling myself is… it’s like this phrase of ‘I am unsure, but I am free’.”
To Kinsley, this phrase is not much advice or a manifestation, but a mission. “I am unsure of this moment, what I want, what I can do,” explained Kinsley. “But I am free, and I am free to change and free to grow and free to let these things happen and make these things happen and that is really a wonderful thing.”
Kinsley approaches her future goals with a similar mindset. She would like to tour more–hopefully internationally–continue writing, collaborate with other talent and creatives, and continue to introduce herself to people through her music.
“I am unsure of what’s gonna come, but I am free and I can do this and it’s possible. That’s all I need to know. So that is my advice to young musicians!”
If you would like to learn more about your next new favorite artist, read our artist spotlight with ko aka koala here!